Climate activists and progressive legislators expressed their disapproval when the chief executive officer of a major oil company was chosen to lead this year’s international climate conference.
“Are you assuming we are naïve?” Inquired former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore. “Utterly absurd,” declared Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Numerous environmental organizations and 130 legislators in both the European Union and United States also voiced their agreement.
But United Arab Emirates oil chief Sultan al-Jaber has a defender in his corner at the summit known as COP28, which debuts Thursday in Dubai: John Kerry, whose two and a half years as President Joe Biden’s climate envoy have included an aggressive courtship of al-Jaber as a partner in the fight against greenhouse gas pollution.
This week, the effectiveness of the partnership will be tested as approximately 70,000 individuals from almost 200 countries convene in a Persian Gulf city that was developed with the oil riches of the UAE. This meeting takes place amidst ongoing conflicts, economic troubles, and a surge in global energy production. One key aspect of Kerry’s efforts in climate diplomacy is the belief that those who have greatly benefitted from greenhouse gas emissions – including countries, corporations, and executives – must also play a crucial role in finding a solution to this issue.
The Republican party’s resistance in the United States, regression against environmental efforts in Europe, and competition for dominance among major powers like Russia and China are constraining the actions available to President Biden.
Kerry, a previous senator for the United States and Democratic candidate for president, is currently 79 years old and at the end of his career. This is an opportunity for him to solidify his impact on combating climate change, as he was instrumental in securing the Paris Agreement during his time as Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama.
If the summit results in a clear demand for the decrease of fossil fuels and specific strategies from major nations and corporations to reduce net emissions to zero by 2050, it would be considered a vindication. “We struggle to comprehend how anyone would permit the continued uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels in our current world,” Kerry stated during a media briefing on Wednesday.
However, some of Kerry’s supporters in the climate advocacy community find the strategy uncomfortable, despite acknowledging its reasoning. They express concern that the U.S. may be exploited by fossil fuel companies determined to maintain the current state of affairs. This is reminiscent of the outcome of last year’s climate summit in Egypt, which included language endorsing the ongoing use of natural gas.
Anne Christianson, the director of international climate policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, stated that John Kerry is searching for areas where the U.S. can persuade countries who heavily depend on fossil fuels, as well as areas of agreement. However, she believes that the exemption granted to the UAE has had a negative impact on the world.
‘Genuine friendship’ and ‘mutual respect’
In 2013, during his initial trip as Secretary of State under Obama, he visited the nation, a significant journey that his then-chief of staff, David Wade, deemed symbolically important for the US.
He endorsed the UAE’s campaign to host the annual climate negotiations as early as June 2021, and was one of the first international figures to applaud al-Jaber’s selection as summit president in January, even as activists’ denunciations swelled.
“I believe that selecting Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is an excellent decision,” Kerry stated in an interview with The Associated Press, citing al-Jaber’s successful management of the UAE’s government-owned oil company as a key factor. “The company is aware of the need to undergo a transition.”
The prompt and expressive hug between al-Jaber was significant and greatly contributed to stability, according to a source familiar with their relationship. This person, along with others interviewed for this article, requested anonymity in order to openly discuss the delicate diplomatic situation.
According to the source, there is a sincere friendship and mutual admiration between the two individuals. It is evident that John Kerry is hoping for Dr. Sultan’s success. They maintain regular contact through text, staff communication, phone calls, and meetings.
The Biden administration and organizers of the climate summit both deny any suggestion of an unusually close relationship between Kerry and al-Jaber.
The State Department’s spokesperson, who did not want to be named in accordance with department rules, stated that any claims of Secretary Kerry’s talks with Dr. Sultan and the UAE being unequal or distinct from his numerous other discussions on climate are incorrect. The spokesperson added that Secretary Kerry has comparable connections with other leaders, including Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and former EU climate chief Frans Timmermans.
The spokesperson emphasized that Secretary Kerry’s valuable assets for this role include his extensive and enduring diplomatic and climate relationships. These are crucial and utilized on a regular basis. It would be considered a failure in diplomacy to not utilize them.
According to a statement from the UAE-based organizers, Al-Jaber has made significant efforts to reach out to government ministers, the private sector, and civil society groups as he prepares to lead the summit. This outreach has been described as “unprecedented” and includes communication with influential figures such as Kerry, as the United States is the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The spokesperson stated that focusing on one relationship and ignoring the hard work of everyone involved in the COP process undermines the importance of this collaborative and multiparty endeavor.
Kerry has generally disregarded idealistic criticisms of Biden’s strategy for climate diplomacy, specifically regarding the U.S.’s hesitance to promise large sums of money to help developing countries with climate-related damages, which would likely face opposition from a Republican-controlled House. (Kerry has suggested alternative methods for funding this aid through private sources.) At a policy forum last year, he reprimanded an activist for not being realistic.
He has also encouraged increased involvement with the oil and gas sectors and the nations that rely on them.
“We need to involve the fossil fuel industry in this conversation,” he stated in an interview with The Financial Times earlier this year. “They must join in and take responsibility for their role in this effort.”
Climate activists express concern that the organizers of the summit are making efforts to appease oil and gas companies, such as the UAE, by giving them control.
Gore expressed his disbelief during a TED talk in August, questioning if the fossil fuel industry believed they could deceive us without consequence. He specifically referenced al-Jaber’s involvement as proof that the industry has overtly taken over the COP process.
After the United Nations’ climate organization officially chose the UAE to host COP28 in November 2021, the oil sector was struggling, providing environmental activists with a glimmer of hope for meaningful conversations about transitioning to renewable energy. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the industry experienced a surge of profits, resulting in a significant increase in new drilling projects fueled by this newfound revenue.
Al-Jaber’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. has joined that trend by announcing a $150 billion, five-year plan whose goals include expanding its oil production capacity. OPEC, the oil-producing cartel to which the UAE belongs, predicts that global oil demand will increase to 116 million barrels per day by 2045, up from 99.6 million today.
Despite those plans, Al-Jaber has called for oil companies to cut their net greenhouse gas pollution to zero by 2050, and has urged his fellow energy executives to take part in addressing rising temperatures, saying: “.
I am aware that in the past, some of you have not felt included in the conversation about the climate.
Both he and Kerry have made reducing methane emissions a primary objective of the summit, as it is a major contributor to global warming from the activities of oil and gas companies.
It cannot reword
At the same time, al-Jaber has warned that “It cannot be changed.”
We are unable to simply disconnect from the current energy systems..”
Senator Sen states that Al-Jaber’s words have not been supported by their corresponding actions.Ed Markey
In an interview, (D-Mass.) stated that while he acknowledges Kerry’s endorsement, he also understands the reasons behind it.
Markey, who is a strong supporter of climate action and holds the Senate seat once occupied by Kerry, stated that it is important for Kerry to maintain everyone’s involvement in the discussions. Markey also mentioned that Kerry is both a diplomat and an optimist. As a friend, Markey is taking on the responsibility of ensuring that companies follow through on their promises.
According to an anonymous former high-ranking official in the Biden administration, Kerry is making efforts to take full advantage of this opportunity to secure the involvement of such a nation.
The source stated that when a country dependent on petroleum resources acknowledges the importance of diversification and the need for a shift towards renewable energy, they are likely to support and embrace this movement in order to progress further.
However, the former official admitted that “this topic is a gamble in some aspects.”
Recently, Kerry has expressed more hesitancy regarding the results of COP28 with al-Jaber and the UAE leading the way. In an interview with Time magazine earlier this month, he stated, “It is uncertain whether it will be successful or not. Some may view it as a trial.”
Two oil giants
Project to drill for oil in the North Slope of Alaska.
Unfortunately, this fact diminishes Kerry’s influence on the negotiations, according to Democratic Senator from Oregon.Jeff Merkley
He stated in an interview, “We will attend COP with minimal global influence due to our decision to increase fossil fuel production.”
The United States is the leading producer of both oil and natural gas, contradicting its desire to present itself as environmentally conscious on an international level. This also aligns its interests with that of the UAE, which ranks as the seventh largest producer of oil and gas in the world.
The top two creators of fossil fuels have similar beliefs regarding moving away from them. They promote the concept of carbon capture technology, which would permit countries to continue using oil and gas while preventing their harmful emissions from entering the atmosphere. On the other hand, environmental activists and numerous climate experts argue that nations must completely abandon the use of fossil fuels, a stance that has gained backing from certain European cities.
According to a high-ranking diplomat from Europe, who was given anonymity in exchange for honesty regarding delicate diplomatic matters, the United States and the Emirates share many common interests.
For the UAE, the climate negotiations are a coming-out party, the most prominent in a procession of conferences it has hosted as it seeks to act as a bridge to East and West, North and South. The country has rifled through public relations firms to burnish its image for a Western audience.
According to internal documents obtained by POLITICO, Al-Jaber and his companies have relied on his close ties with Kerry to convince those doubtful of the UAE’s efforts in addressing climate change.
According to a planning document from October 2022 that has not been previously reported, Masdar, a renewable energy company owned by the state and founded by al-Jaber, sees Kerry as an example of an external stakeholder or ally who can validate their ambition to become one of the largest clean energy companies in the world. Similarly, according to a strategy document from December reported on by POLITICO earlier this month, the national oil company led by al-Jaber sought out Kerry to validate their role as a responsible energy provider in the context of a pro-growth, pro-climate transition.
Masdar and ADNOC didn’t respond to questions about their focus on Kerry. But ADNOC previously dismissed the strategy document as outdated and “unreliable.”
When Kerry traveled to last year’s U.N. climate talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, he flew on a plane chartered by Masdar, according to a previously unreported LinkedIn post by a former Masdar official that includes a photo of the U.S. envoy sitting in business class.
The United States Department of State verified that Kerry was a passenger on the flight and stated that the U.S. covered the cost of his seat. The spokesperson for the department explained that Kerry had to make a last-minute trip from a regional conference in Abu Dhabi to meet with Chinese officials and there were no available commercial flights that would have allowed him to arrive on time.
This year’s talks come at a complicated period in geopolitics. The UAE recently was invited to join
The BRICS, an informal alliance of emerging economies, is becoming more aligned with the US’s rivals, Russia and China. Due to the sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, there has been an influx of Russian funds into the UAE, making them the top international investors in the country’s real estate market.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made significant investments in Africa. This is to serve as a defense against Iran, a country that has become increasingly significant amidst the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel. The UAE also has complex connections with Saudi Arabia, a leading oil-producing nation that has hindered efforts for rapid climate change solutions.
The summit presents an opportunity for Kerry to maintain the UAE’s alignment with the United States, particularly in regards to climate issues.
The actions taken could have significant impact on key issues discussed during the negotiations. The United States is attempting to guide the direction of a proposed global fund that would provide compensation to developing countries for climate-related harm, including the demand for contributions from nations like China. Additionally, Kerry has urged the UAE and other affluent Gulf nations, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to increase their contributions towards combatting climate change.
There are indications that the pressure applied by the United States is starting to have an impact. According to a report by POLITICO, the United Arab Emirates is contemplating establishing a fund worth tens of billions of dollars to promote investments in clean energy globally. The country’s sovereign wealth funds would contribute to this initiative, making it one of the biggest climate finance contributions ever.
Kerry has dedicated significant effort to one of the main objectives of the summit – assessing the progress made by nations in reducing global warming since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, and determining the remaining work that needs to be done. This determination will guide the upcoming round of national climate commitments due in 2025.
According to a senior official from the State Department, there is a desire for a powerful statement to be made at the conclusion of the COP meeting, emphasizing the need for countries to take further action in addressing global warming. It is crucial to maintain the UAE’s alignment with this stance and prevent alignment with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, or China in order to achieve this goal.
In order for the United States to view the summit as a triumph, the ultimate agreement must not only pledge to decrease the consumption of fossil fuels, but also outline a plan for achieving this goal.
According to Markey, Kerry is making every effort to secure an agreement that will benefit the planet.
This report was contributed to by Sara Schonhardt.